making your thanksgiving thanksLIVING

by: lisa fuller, kids city director at new city

November has arrived with trees bursting to the peak of color. Coolness is in the air. Change is upon us. Halloween has been traded out for Christmas in the stores as if you can just pass right by Thanksgiving.

We all know that gratitude does not require the purchase of things.

There’s nothing for the consumer to consume, except the turkey of course, and the pie. There’s not much to fill stores with. So the marketers just pretend Thanksgiving’s not even there and move right on to the next big thing.

But this thing—Thanksgiving—it’s big! It deserves thought and planning and our attention. The food is grand; only our best recipes make the cut. Maybe we’ll bring out the good bottle of wine. Maybe we’ll even use the china this year.  And then there’s the table.

And there’s a much bigger question about Thanksgiving: Who will sit at my feast of gratitude table?

We all know the story. The American Thanksgiving celebration started in 1621, as the Pilgrims invited the neighboring Native tribes to join them in a feast of gratitude for God’s blessings. Can you imagine the ice-breaker needed at that table? The Pilgrims with their many faults and the Natives with theirs, attempting strategic hospitality that would make history.  

The New Testament word for “hospitality” comes from a compound of “love” and “stranger.” Hospitality has its origin, literally, in love for outsiders.

The strategy of the American Thanksgiving story would not be the same if the Pilgrims had just had their gratitude feast with other Pilgrims, people just like them.

Jesus (who had no home on earth to entertain in) was masterful at strategic hospitality, this showing love to the stranger. Hebrews 13:1–2 says, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Yes, love the brothers, but make sure you don’t forget this: Don’t neglect to love strangers as well.

John Piper reminds us, “Love for fellow Christians is important, essential—some call it ‘the final apologetic,’ based on John 13:35—but there’s a way in which it may not be all that impressive. Loving those who love you—‘Do not even unbelievers do the same?’ asks Jesus (Matthew 5:47). But showing love to outsiders, now that rings of life-change. That has the fingerprints of your heavenly Father all over it.”  

And so there’s that table to consider as you plan your own gratitude dinner. Who will sit there?

John Piper’s words remind us of our motivation for hospitality: “As Christians we love the stranger, because we have been loved by the Father when we ourselves were strangers.”

And so our hospitality, not so unlike the Pilgrims and American Indians all those years ago, at times is strategic. Not that we have a hidden agenda, but we do have a divine motivation. Our strategy is simply showing love to the outsider when it’s easier to relax into our comfortable routine.

Strategic hospitality is not content to just have the old clan over for dinner again. It strategizes how to make the hospitality of God known and felt by those God has put in our sphere of influence, from the lonely neighbor across the street to the co-worker whose family is far away. Just look around you’ll see them. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your table as a launching pad for new life and hope and ministry and mission. And so we invite in the outsider; we welcome unbelievers into our space, all in hopes of bringing Jesus into theirs, because we love them.

“Our love for outsiders runs deep as it flows from remembering ourselves to be outsiders who have been dearly loved by a lavishly hospitable God.”- John Piper

One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, says this on the topic of gratitude: “Thanksgiving that doesn’t become thanksliving isn’t thanksgiving. It’s thanksdead. It’s thanksnothing.”

To have a lifestyle of gratitude means we must DO something with our gratefulness. What if the question around our tables this year wasn’t just “What are you grateful for?” but rather “What will you do because you are grateful?”

That’s ThanksLIVING.

Maybe you invite some outsiders to your table. Maybe you plan a neighborhood flag football game on Thursday morning. Maybe you invite some coworkers to a Wednesday pie night. If you have children, explain what you are doing and why. And then help them to see ways to love and be hospitable to the outsiders in their lives too.  

Whatever you do, consider Thanksliving—the lifestyle of gratitude that is strategically hospitable when it’s easier to stick to the familiar.  Why? Because you were once an outsider in need of that hospitable love too.